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Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary Hardcover – May 11, 2006
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I was fascinated by the fact the Ms Jacobs did not look for fame - she was first off a writer who found her voice in writing about cities. The author calls her a `prose poet' and uses Jacobs' own words liberally throughout this book to show the readers the beauty and power of her words. She became involved in urban activism because her own neighborhood was threatened with destruction in the great `urban renewal' projects of the time. It seemed obvious to her that her street was not a slum - that her neighborhood worked as a place where children could play, businesses could prosper and people could band together to protect their homes.
I also liked that the author places Jane Jacobs in her time. With NYC being so desirable now, we forget that it was in serious trouble in the late 1950-60's. One of the answers (backed by major government funding) was to clear the slums by bulldozing established neighborhoods. The automobile was 'king' and urban neighborhoods in the US and Canada were expendable if it meant easier access for drivers. It was also a time when Americans were realizing that their involvement in Vietnam was unjust and were taking to the streets to protest.Read more ›
The author follows Jacobs in her difficult quest for employment in New York. She describes the chance encounter with a social reformer in Haarlem that prompted her interest in the impact of "urban renewal". Quickly recognising the value of neighbourhoods, Jacobs went on to thwart the designs of urban planners, both private and in government. Alexiou explains the amount of work entailed in Jacobs' efforts, both in New York and her later home, Toronto. The Toronto location had a strange dual impact on Jacobs, according to the author. Living in the age of "America, Love It or Leave It", Jacobs move diminshed her following in her homeland. In Canada, however, she quickly became a rising star. There, she continued her stiff resistence to "development" and was instrumental in the blocking of the Spadina Freeway project. It would have cut right through her home!
Alexiou's book should provide secondary school teachers with a treasured resource. Classes in sociology and civics would do well to read this book in preparation for going on to Jacobs' own works. Even the less remembered books, such as that on Quebec separation still represent her voice. That voice should be kept alive and Alexiou's account will go far in doing that. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Chosen by Planetzen, The Planning and Development Network as one of the ten best books of 2006.
With no training or professional experience whatsoever in the field, she is famous for her fresh approach to urban realities. The book, however, hints that her husband, an architect, had an important role in the development of the insights included in her books, particularly `The Death and Life of Great American Cities'.
The book also sheds considerable light on the central paradox in Jane Jacob's life: she fought for years to preserve Greenwich Village and its urbanity and, almost overnight, abandoned New York for (then) quite bland Toronto.
One should be aware that this book does not present or discuss Jacob's ideas and would be of limited interest to anyone unfamiliar with them.
In other words, her views were much more extraordinary than her life.